How to Bounce Your Flash (With Video Demonstration)

get-great-light-with-flash

Life is fun and wonderful when you have great light. But what happens when you are indoors, with nothing but yucky artificial light going on? In this video Rob shows you a super simple technique to get great light with your flash. So take a minute, and enjoy learning visually.

Fun right? Now that you’ve watched the video, here are some notes to help you set everything up in the right order, and get some awesome light!

First, let’s look at the results from the video (no editing, all straight out of camera: SOOC)

In this shot you’ll see there is still some colour cast on Lauren’s face from the overhead lights. Gotta block that out:

bouncing-flash-001.jpg

Reduced the ISO and now there’s virtually no cast left:

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This is with the flash pointed straight up. Not much light in her eyes, and unflattering shadows:

bouncing-flash-005.jpg

Direct flash. Icky: 

bouncing-flash-004.jpg

Better! This is with the flash pointed at 45 degrees, over my right shoulder. Soft, directional, easy:

bouncing-flash-003.jpg

1. Block Out Ambient Light

Set your exposure to block out ambient light. What you want to do is block out those icky overhead lights. This might seem counterintuitive (normally in low light conditions you want as much light as possible).

The problem is that the overhead lights produce a different color temperature than your flash. If you don’t block them out, your images will have a combination of the yellower overhead temperature and the bluer flash temperature and will be virtually impossible to white balance.

Set your shutter speed first around 1/160 – 1/200 (faster shutter speeds will help block out the ambient, but you can’t go too fast or you won’t be able to sync with you flash).

Next set your aperture to something your comfortable with. We’re usually in the f/2.8 to f/3.5 range.

Finally adjust your ISO until you can no longer see ambient light in the image. If you’re taking a test shot of a person their skin tones should be extremely dark—you really don’t want any yellow cast showing .

2. Set Your Flash

Attach your flash and turn it on. Set your flash to ETTL or an automatic equivalent. You should already have your camera exposure settings (from Step 1.)

All you should have to do at this point is aim your flash in the direction you would like to bounce the light from. This will take a little bit of practice and you’ll have to be conscious of what you’re bouncing off of. We typically position the flash at about 45 degrees and point it over our left or right shoulder. This produces nice soft directional light (as seen in the photos).

Take a few test shots and adjust your flash as needed. You may need to adjust the power of the flash up or down depending on how bright the image is.

3. Practice!

This technique will work 90% of the time. You’ll find that you can bounce off of walls and celings that seem impossibly far away. It’s just a matter of adjusting the direction of the flash and fine tuning the strength.

Spend some time practicing this in your home. Try different angles, bounce of walls, ceilings, and anything that you think could work. See how the different directions result in different types of light.

Tips:

• This technique is perfect for wedding receptions. You don’t have to do much with your camera, and can spend more time paying attention to what is happening, and capturing those moments. Less fiddling, more focus.

• The best flashes for this technique are the 580EX for Canon and the SB900 for Nikon. They call them “shoe-mount flashes”. They can rotate to any angle, which gives you the variation you need to get the best light. If your flash can’t turn all the way, your best bet is just bouncing as much as you can. 

• Bouncing your flash uses up a lot of battery power. The additional battery pack is useful in helping your flash recycle quickly. (Canon model. Nikon model.)

• Mirrors on the wall will often confuse the automatic settings in flash, in which case you may need to set the flash power manually.

• You’ll find that as it gets darker (lowering lights for the dance for instance) you can turn your ISO up without having the ambient light show up. This will help conserve battery power, and recycle your flash faster!

The farther away from your subject you are the more direct you’ll need to point your flash. This is useful to know for things like speeches. For instance if you’re really close to your subject you’ll have no problem bouncing flash over your shoulder and beautifully lighting your subject. If your subject is across a room you won’t be able to bounce over your shoulder instead you’ll need to point the flash more directly at your subject, maybe bouncing off a wall, or more forward on the ceiling.

• If you’re working in a venue with an extremely tall ceiling, a black ceiling, a brightly colored ceiling, or no ceiling at all then you will need to resort to a flash diffuser, direct flash or off-camera flash.

Notes:
Apologies for the icky light in the video. It was kind of the point :) And the shakiness, well, Lauren apologizes, and says that her arms are embarassingly weak. Big thanks to Sheri, Lauren, Brenda and Steph for the topic suggestion! Hope this helped!

Rob Lim

Hi there, I’m Rob! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I love all things photography: shooting, teaching and always learning more! If I’m not reading up on the latest photography news, or studying a technique, I’m probably reading a book or planning our next adventure!

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Comments

77 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Thank you Rob and Lauren! I've found your blog posts so informative and really easy to understand.

  2. Thanks guys. You are so awesome sharing all this info with us!

  3. Thanks for this guys! We've shot over 75 wedding receptions with our Flashes pointed straight up! EEK! We are going to test out what you've shown us and know we'll get more of what we've been looking for. Thanks so much guys and we're looking forward to more Flash Tutorials!! ;)

  4. *Melanie:* Thanks so much, we're so glad to hear that you're digging the site!

    *Janine:* You are most welcome! Happy to share!

    *Heidi:* Right on! So glad to hear that you're gonna try it out. I think you'll dig it, so much room to play!

  5. Thanks so much, can't wait to try it out and see all the other flash tutorials!

  6. Thanks! That was excellent.

  7. Great video! Quick question? If the wall you are bouncing off of is a differently color other than white, will this technique have the same effect? say, pink, green, brown, purple, etc?

  8. you guys are awsome. this site helps lot,I'm using a lightspear but it is too big and after I saw this video I've notice that I can get same effect with bouncing the light.. thanks so much and Im looking forward for more pro tips and tricks..:)

  9. @Sheila Hi! Great question! We don't have much difficulty bouncing off a wide variety of colors. You may notice the color but it's not usually an issue. If the wall or ceiling is really brightly colored then you'll definitely notice the color cast. What you'll find is that the more that you use this technique the more that you'll get creative about what you can bounce light off of!

    @Gino Great to see you! Hope this helps. We're excited to share more :)

  10. You guys are so great, thanks for an amazing video! I'm absolutely a visual learner, so it's great to be able to watch you direct the flash various ways, and to be able to see the result of each shot. Thank you so much, I always look forward to diving into your site. :)

  11. Great topic and to the point instructions. Just what I needed! Shooting my first wedding in June and I won't be able to rely on the natural light I typicaly work with. Thanks and I hope you continue this series!

  12. Thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed the video, definitely more to come :)

  13. This was super helpful- thanks a bunch! :)

  14. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
    This was so helpful and it really made sense and now I'm excited to get practicing and trying it out!

    Love this site!
    I've recommended it to all my friends!

  15. Do you find that the smaller apertures still work well with a zoom lens given the effect of the extra compression on the depth of field?

  16. *@Allison:* So glad you enjoyed it!

    *@Sheri:* Wow, thanks so much for the comment! So glad it made sense! And double thanks for sharing the site, we really appreciate it!

    *@Gareth:* Do you mean telephoto lenses? Like long focal lengths? I really like the look of a small aperture with a long lens, gives fantastic bokeh!

  17. A friend gave me this link a few days before I was to shoot a wedding. (I've only shot one before, so there were nerves, but I'm confident in my natural light abilities…not so much flash)
    I have to say that every SINGLE time that I used your 'trick' of turning the flash backward pointing away (stopped with a stoffen) the light was just creamy and gorgeous. I am so grateful to have heeded your wise advice. Thank you!

  18. Thanks for the post you guys! This is exactly what I needed to know :) I can't wait for more tutorials. The video was an amazing addition.

  19. *@Emily:* That's so great to hear that it worked for you! Hooray!

    *@Steph:* Awesome!! So glad it helped!

  20. That was a great video! It had good information. Quick question though, what camera do you use to film your videos?

  21. @DaliSalvadorAde Thanks for the comment! Most of our videos are filmed with the Canon 5D MK II. I think for this video as well as the previous video we used the Canon 35 f/1.4 lens.

  22. Great, great info! Shooting my first wedding (with an indoor, nighttime reception) next month and your video has given me a more confidence to handle the poor lighting :-) Now I just need to practice! Thanks!

  23. *Molly:* Thanks so much, so glad you enjoyed the video! Practice practice practice, and I'm sure you'll be confident by the time your wedding rolls around! Good luck! :)

  24. This is so much easy to understand for a beginner like me. All I really need now is to practice. Thanks a lot!!!

  25. Thanks for the comment Maricel! So glad it was easy to understand!!

  26. This is AWESOME!! I'm absolutely a visual learner and this video is fantastic. I'm so grateful for all you offer. Now… off to dig through the rest of your site.

  27. Thanks so much Maureen! We're so glad it was helpful for you! :)

  28. This was a great video and so helpful.I am so scared of the flash! I shall practice now and be less scared, hopefully!

  29. Thank you so much! This video was just what I needed to inspire me to practice with my flash instead of being afraid of it :).

  30. Thank you so much for explaining everything in a way that FINALLY clicked for me!

  31. This was the best video EVER! I instantly was able to apply these practices and saw INSTANT results! Wow you have no idea as to how helpful this was THANK YOU!!!

  32. I am so impressed with your explaination of not only how to bounce my flash but the why's of camera setting too. So many articles out there, none I have read so far have given me the understand your video and writtings have. Thank you.. Your site is awesome..

  33. This is the BEST TUTORIAL EVER!!!!! It made so much sense and you explained things so well. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!